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 O  P  E  R  A  T  I  O  N    S  E  A  H  O  R  S  E

Final Preparations and the Voyage Home

 

As luck would have it, Anspach was in for another wild ride a week later.  This time, he was ferrying one of the two-seaters (#555) to Cherbourg:   

On 6 July 1945, I departed Melun at 1000 hours ... the trip was uneventful until the landing approach was initiated. Upon lowering the landing gear, I received indication of the main- gear extending but no panel light that the nose gear was down. I activated the emergency gear-down switch, which was a compressed air cylinder, but still did not receive a gear-down indication.

I had earlier received a green light from the tower to land so I continued on the approach expecting a red light if the nose gear was not fully extended. I thought the gear was extended and that the down-indicator was unreliable. Inasmuch as I received no red light from the tower I continued my approach, and touched down normally on the main gear, holding the nose off the ground as long as possible. After rolling approximately 1/3 the length of the runway, I slowly lowered the nose and found I did not have gear extension.

The aircraft slid for 800 to 1000 feet straight ahead on the nose section, engine nacelles and main gear before stopping. I was surprised to find very little damage had been inflicted to the aircraft.

All that was required to make it flyable was to replace the nose section and the front portion of each engine nacelle. I took several mechanics and flew to Lechfeld in a C-47.

We removed the needed components from another Me 262 . The damaged sections of the the trainer were replaced and the aircraft loaded on board the aircraft carrier.

Once all of the aircraft had arrived at the port, Army Lieutenant Colonel "Bud" Seashore supervised the load out sequence.  He happened to be an old friend of Bob Strobell's from his days at the 1st Tactical Air Force headquarters.  

The latter had once been assigned to fly Seashore all over the continent in a search for suitable chateaux, resorts and other "relaxation centers" which could be contracted to serve war weary troops.   It had been an especially memorable mission for Strobell, and he was greatly amused to learn that his old friend was now living aboard a well-appointed crane barge in the harbor.

Strobell made arrangements to retrieve his personal gear prior to the trip, and was in Mannheim on the 4th of July.  It was to prove a fateful day for him:   he was assigned a war-weary P-47 for his trip, and on takeoff the manifold blew, spraying atomized fuel into the cockpit.  It quickly ignited, engulfing Strobell in flames. 

Though he successfully bailed out of the plane, third degree burns landed him in the hospital for several weeks.  As a result of this incident, he missed the Reaper's departure date, and was not able to remain with the program. (He also lost hundreds of project documents and some 25 rolls of undeveloped film in the fire.)

The trainer (#555) following Anspach's nose gear failure at Cherbourg.

The H.M.S. Reaper loading at Cherbourg.  Credit:  Brown

Additional aircraft at Cherbourg being towed to the loading point via barge.  Credit: Brown

Roy Brown's Pick II, lashed to the deck of the H.M.S. Reaper.  Credit: Brown

Another view of the captured aircraft aboard the Reaper.  Credit: Brown

  

During the Reaper's load out, each of the aircraft was given a protective "shrink wrap" to protect it from the sea spray.  A shipping control number was assigned, and the planes were then placed on powered  barges known as "Rhinos."  Once the Rhinos were in position, the aircraft were hoisted onto the deck of the carrier.  This was repeated for nearly 40 aircraft of various types. 

All of the planes were finally inventoried, loaded and lashed to the deck of the H.M.S. Reaper, and the officers and men settled in for the long trip home.  The carrier departed Cherbourg on the 19th of July 1945, bound for Newark.

Once at sea, there was little to do but relax and enjoy the voyage.  The men of the Royal Navy proved to be gracious hosts, and between the ship's stores and a few cases of Cognac the American officers had intended to bring home with them, there were frequent causes for celebration.  Ken Holt observed later that it was a wonder that the Reaper reached the States at all, as the ship's navigator was rarely ever sober enough to carry out his duties.

While the officers relaxed by throwing empty bottles overboard, the crew chiefs played cards with the British sailors.  Two of the American sergeants  won several thousand dollars in the process, and later had to devise creative ways of clearing customs.  There was little news from home except for word that a B-25 bomber had crashed into the Empire State building.  For the first time since the war's end, the men were headed home.

 


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